Photo: Matthäus Merian [Public domain], CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
It is the undisputed landmark of the German upland Siebengebirge – the Drachenfels (Dragon’s Rock). The castle’s striking ruins tower high above the river Rhine and the picturesque little town of Königswinter, near the former German capital Bonn. The view from the hill's peak over the Rhine valley and the Siebengebirge are quite simply breathtaking. The mythical sight of hill, ruin and the nearby palace of the same name have fascinated Rhinelanders for centuries. Thus, it is of no surprise that countless myths and legends tell stories about the mountain with the terrifying name.
The horror stories of Dragon’s Rock
The most famous legend that is associated with the hill is the medieval heroic epic about Sigurd the Dragon Slayer in the Nibelungenlied (Song of the Nibelungs). According to the legend a dragon lived in a cave on the hill. The residents of the Rhine valley were terrified of the beast and because they were defenseless and without protection they sacrificed a virgin every year. One day, the young Sigurd rode up the river Rhine. He bravely climbed up the hill, challenged and killed the dragon. The dragon’s blood, that the young hero bathed in, was said to make him invincible.
Other legends state that the dragon sat on top of the hill to watch out for ships on the Rhine. As soon as a ship got close enough, the dragon would spit fire and happily watch sailors burn or drown. Then, one day, a ship, that sailors had filled up with explosives, came up the river. When the dragon set fire to the ship, it exploded and the beast was so shocked that it was never seen again.
To this day, the castle ruin sits on top of the Drachenfels hill. It was built in the 12th century. The burgraves were very wealthy, because the trachyte (of which the hill consists) was very valuable back then and was one of the main materials for the construction of Cologne Cathedral. The most common explanations for the naming of the hill derives from the name of the material that it exists of (trachyte sounds like the German name for dragon – «Drache»). However, centuries before the name «trachyte» was introduced in geology, old documents show that the hill was already being referred to as «in monte dracu» (on top of Dragon’s Rock).
Beneath the castle ruin, Baron Stephan von Sarter fulfilled his lifelong dream of building a private villa in form of a fairy-tale style palace. Build around 1880, von Sarter actually never got to live in the estate and died childless. Thus, no one ever really lived there. After the Baron’s death the estate underwent a number of different changes in use. Tourist attraction, boarding school, Central School of the Deutsche Reichsbahn – the villas history is characterized by a constant change of owners. Only in 1986 the estate was finally put under monumental protection and now belongs to the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. To this day, the magnificent building, whose rooms are named after the characters of Richard Wagner’s opera cycle «Der Ring der Nibelungen», attracts large numbers of visitors.
Up the hill
The tour up to the castle ruin and a short detour to the Schloss Drachenfels is a classic among the hiking trails in the hill range of the Siebengebirge. The breathtaking view from the ruin on top of the hill down the Rhine valley justifies the exhausting uphill hike. However, if you want avoid the effort you can also take the Drachenfelsbahn – Germany’s oldest active rack railway.
The tour up to the castle ruin and a short detour to the Schloss Drachenfels is a classic among the hiking trails in the hill range Siebengebirge. The breathtaking view from the ruin on top of the hill down the Rhine valley justifies the exhausting uphill hike. However, if you want avoid the effort you can also take the Drachenfelsbahn – Germany’s oldest active rack railway.
If you want to try something completely different and fun, you should take a ride on the famous Drachenfels donkeys. In the past the donkeys were used for the transportation for stones from the querry. But when more and more visitors wanted to hike up the hill to visit the castle ruin, the donkeys were provided as a means of transportation. The introduction of the Drachenfelsbahn had almost no influence on the popularity of the donkeys and today they still take visitors from the valley station uphill. Especially the younger visitors get excited about the kind and loyal animals.